A lot of people ask me “What is it that makes a New England IPA different?”. The big difference is that this style has a HUGE tropical and citrus hop flavor (think mangos and orange zest), but a low bitterness. This makes it extremely flavorful and drinkable even to those who typically don’t like the somewhat harsh and lingering bitterness of an IPA. In the beer world this style of IPA is really starting to take hold, and for good reason. IPA’s make up the biggest style segment in craft beer and account for over 25% of craft beer sales. They’re kind of a big deal. But There are a lot of different styles of beer, and there are a lot of different types of IPA’s.
A little backstory on beer styles:
There are a few different organizations that categories beer styles. The BJCP (beer judge certification program) is one that categorizes beer styles for the main purpose of use in home brew and professional brewery competitions. In 2015 they updated the beer style guidelines and there are now 120 different beer styles plus many new and historic styles that aren’t even included. The beer marketplace is changing so fast, nearly extinct beer styles are being resurrected and new hybrid styles are being created every day. Beer is very much in flux but the point is that there are a lot of options that are very different from each other. Styles help define differences in flavor but shouldn’t be used to over-constrain beer innovation. Beer should be fun!
Hoppy, bitter, grapefruit, pine, resinous, citrus, fruity and mmmmmmm are all ways you may have heard IPA’s described. One thing to keep in mind is the difference between Hoppy (hop flavor and aroma) and Bitterness. A lot of people don’t like IPA’s because they don’t like the extreme bitterness typically associated with them. There is a huge range of bitterness in different IPAs and New England styles are typically closer to a pale ale or lower level of bitterness. As with most beer, different areas have interpreted the IPA style differently and created distinct varieties. Here are a few of the major types of IPA in the US now and how they line up to each other. Keep in mind there are a ton of other IPA styles not included here.
|IPA Style||Popular Breweries||Bitterness||Typical Hop Flavors||Malt Flavors||Style Notes|
|West Coast||Stone, Sierra Nevada, Lagunitas||High||Pine, grapefruit pith, resinous||Lightly toasted bread, crackers||Assertive, lingering bitterness. Big & bold hop flavor|
|Midwest||Bells, Founders, Three Floyds||High||Citrus, grapefruit pith, floral||Rich toasted bread, light caramel sweetness||Medium malt flavor, slightly closer to an Amber ale than other IPAs|
|New England||Tree House, Trillium, The Alchemist||Medium-Low||Mango, orange zest, pineapple, peach||Lightly toasted bread, crackers||Juicy, cloudy, tropical focused, drink fresh|
|Session||Founders (All Day IPA), Ballast Point (Even Keel)||Medium-Low||Citrus, grapefruit pith, floral||Crackers, bready||Low ABV, easy drinking but flavorful|
|Black||Various||Medium-High||Citrus, fruity||Dark toasted bread, biscuit, grainy||Uses darker roasted malt to impart color|
|White||Various||Medium- High||Citrus fruit, floral, grapefruit pith||Wheat, bread||Typically, a wit style with a citrus hop focus|
|Rye||Various||Medium-High||Floral, spicy (noble hops), citrus||Spicy rye bread||Spicy malt balanced with spicy hops|
|Belgian||Various||Medium||Citrus, tropical, spicy, floral||Lightly toasted bread, crackers||Belgian citrus characteristics matches with citrus hops|
New England IPA:
I lived in Boston for 9 years and really came to appreciate the New England style IPA. Classic examples come from breweries like Tree House, The Alchemist, and Trillium but dozens of other breweries make amazing examples too! Some people dont like to pidgen-hole the NE IPA into one category since New England is a large area and IPA’s from northern Vermont have different characteristics than those from western Massachussettes. When you really break it down by brewery style in each state I dont believe that any individual state conforms to a specific sub style. They’re all making their own interpretation of what they think tastes good.
Dont go too deep into the style trenches, if tastes good then thats what matters!
In general NE IPAs are less bitter than your typical IPA. They’re juicy and extremely flavorful with strong notes of tropical fruit, mango, pineapple, papaya, orange zest, and peaches. They’re heavily hopped (dry hopped) but not that bitter. In our Sun Temple NE style IPA, we use 60% more hops than for our Himalayan IPA but it’s still 15% less bitter! We use 4 boil additions and a low temperature whirlpool addition on the hot side. Then we have three massive dry hop additions over the course of fermentation and conditioning. The goal with this style is to extract all of the delicate, flavor and aroma oils without extracting bitterness. It’s a very challenging process and takes great care to get just right.
Because of the large amount of hops this style uses the beer ends up being very cloudy (turbid) from hop compounds that get stuck in suspension. This is very much intended and provides the unique “juicy” tropical and fruity mouthfeel typical of the style. One downside is that these delicate hop compounds suspended in the beer tend to lose their potency fairly quickly. Like a freshly baked loaf of bread, the fresher it is when you finish it the better it’s going to taste. So grab a pint while its fresh, sit back and enjoy!